US senator JOHN McCAIN was the grand marshal for Saturday's NASCAR Nextel Cup Subway Fresh 500 race at Phoenix International Raceway. This was the senior senator's first time at PIR, and he said he was concerned that he wouldn't get the words right (he did) and/or he would drool on TV (he didn't).

McCain said: "NASCAR is very impressive watching a lot on television, and probably the biggest single event that takes place in our valley all year, but now twice a year. We are certainly glad to have our visitors from all over the country spend a lot of money. We are grateful for that."

McCain was asked if he would encourage Congress to help clean up rough driving in NASCAR, as it had helped police other sports. He replied: "NASCAR has done a good job so far with policing its sport. It's a wonderful sport. I would hate to see Congress screw it up."

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The junior senator from Arizona, JOHN KYL accompanied McCain to PIR on Saturday. Kyl has been coming to PIR for the past thirty years, having started out as a SCCA corner worker. Kyl noted a lot of changes since then.

McCain was asked a variety of questions in a short media conference on Saturday afternoon. Yes, he is considering running for president, and will make his decision early next year. He had planned on making the announcement this time next year. When asked about his military involvement, he said "Great fighter pilots shot down the enemy. I got shot down."

McCain was asked a lot of questions on oil consumption, rising gasoline prices and possible solutions. He pointed to Brazil, a large country which weaned itself off oil by changing over to ethanol. At $10 a barrel for oil, ethanol didn't seem that great. At $75 a barrel, ethanol makes a lot more sense. Having ethanol run by the Indy Racing League and at the Indianapolis 500 has a great psychological effect which will be beneficial.

One of the current fuel concerns is that there are problems and uncertainty in the major oil supplying countries. And, in the United States, the regulatory and environmental controls add to the cost of fuel. Ethanol is a viable option, as the technology has improved dramatically.

McCain is a big proponent of nuclear power, and pointed to France as an example, which is using it a lot. It's a clean source. And Russia just announced plans for 40 new nuclear plants.

The weather was hot Saturday at PIR, there was a stiff breeze which cut the heat, and the crowds were plentiful and enthusiastic.

MARK KENT, director of GM Racing, spent much of his weekend admittedly defending General Motors' position on leaving/remaining in NASCAR. Earlier this week, a website had posited that one of the top three Detroit manufacturers would be leaving NASCAR and had an exit plan in place. All three current Detroit manufacturers involved in Nextel Cup denied the rumours - Dodge, General Motors, and Ford.

"GM is NOT the manufacturer referred to in those rumours," Kent stressed, "We are committed to NASCAR. NASCAR has 75 million fans and this is a cost-effective involvement. Involvement in NASCAR is helping the company and what would be the negative impact if we left?"

GM does look at how it spends its advertising budget and motorsports dollars, and feels NASCAR is cost effective. Being involved with NASCAR is not just at the track.

"It's what we do at the track," Kent added.

An example is the 900 hot laps in Chevrolet Impala SS cars given away for this Saturday morning. It's not just the technical expertise, but the displays, showcasing the entire GM line, interactive displays which involve the visitor.

There are several measurements to gauge/measure cost effectiveness, such as the Joyce Julius TV ratings, and follow-up to visitors in the GM display areas. Kent said 40 per cent of NASCAR fans drive GM products. One thing of which he wasn't sure was whether or not good performance on the track translated into better sales.

He said "But people do like to be associated with a winner. Racing is part of our DNA, and Chevrolet is the winningest nameplate in NASCAR. Look at the competitive landscape and evaluate our involvement."

Kent said rumours do pop up and it's everyone's constitutional right to write. It's the nature of the business. We don't mind putting out those fires. We don't know how the rumour started.

Regarding teams' concerns about the rumours, Kent said the GM teams realise there is a mutual commitment regarding contracts. And the team contracts vary. GM has no contracts with NASCAR per se. GM does have contracts with race tracks.

Kent wouldn't be pressed on answering any questions on the status of the Harvick-Richard Childress Racing contracts.

"We think highly of Kevin," he noted, "We don't get involved with teams."

Kent said GM "worked on Harvick's Truck (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) team today. We would like to keep him in the fold, Busch Series and Cup."

Kent was careful in answering questions regarding GM's involvement in the Busch Series. He said the Busch Series was at a crossroads and GM was taking a 'wait and see' attitude. For the teams, being involved with the Busch Series was good economics for them, running somewhat the same car as in Nextel Cup. Kent said while there had been some discussions with NASCAR on the Busch Series, GM has not directly asked NASCAR to do anything specific. GM holds several NASCAR discussions every year.

Part of the 'exit rumour' had the unnamed series wanting to switch its motorsports involvement to production-based racing where the cars resemble street cars. Kent said that GM already has been involved with the American Le Mans Series, which was a great technical series. JOHNNY O'CONNELL has been the development driver for the new Corvette which GM successfully runs in the ALMS GTS class. TOM WALLACE is the new engineer for that programme and attends every race.

The Cadillac brand is very successful in the SCCA Pro Racing SPEED World Challenge Series and is currently leading the manufacturers' standings.

Kent said the rumour sounded like someone wanted to be like GM already is.

In what appeared to be a rare situation, TONY STEWART will move to the back of the pack for the start of the race, because of "failure to start the race on his qualifying tyres." RICK HEINRICH of Goodyear explained that, normally, the top ten qualifiers take their qualifying tyres to the impound area after qualifying, until the start of the race. Somehow, Stewart's tyres were brought back to Goodyear for disposal. Heinrich did not know how the situation was discovered.

HELIO CASTRONEVES is one fast driver. In what was Saturday in Motegi, Japan, he won the Indy Racing League race from the pole, and then flew with countryman TONY KANAAN and team owner, ROGER PENSKE, straight to Phoenix for the Nextel Cup race on what was Saturday in the US. They arrived several hours before the Cup race and, while Kanaan was not seen, Castroneves was his usual upbeat, effervescent self in hanging out with KURT BUSCH at the Penske hauler.